Thursday, December 3, 2009

Easy as 1-2-3 - Traditional Scottish Shortbread

I have already established the fact that I am a DaSwiGerm, or Danish, Swiss, & German; AKA "Euro-Mutt", several posts back, but when it comes to Holiday baking, my traditions have branch out a little. I am bringing this up now, because over the next month I'm going to be tackling a hodge podge of traditional as well as non-traditional holiday baking projects. Things such as Gingerbread men, Gingerbread Houses, Pfeffernussen, Spekulatius, Buche de Noel, Truffles, Springerle, Linzer Augen, Gelatin Fudge, Haselnuss Divinity and Turkish delights. All of this culminating in Aebleskivers on Christmas morning.

One of these projects that is not necessarily a "family tradition", though it has become a personal one, is Shortbread. I LOVE shortbread... all kinds of shortbread... From my mom's Lemon Surprise Shortbread to Coconut Shortbread, Hazelnut Shortbread, Green Tea Shortbread and Orange/Vanilla bean shortbread. Did I mention I love shortbread?

But even though my family roots began far from the highlands, my all time favorite is traditional Scottish shortbread. Now when I say this, I really mean traditional... Slightly sandy and crisp, lightly sweet, deliciously buttery with a touch of saltiness. Totally awesome!!!

I have 1 wooden mold (a thistle of course, complete with sun rays) that I use to make large 6 inch cookies. I think this is the size that is broken over the bride's head when she is taken over the threshold of her home for the first time, but I am not sure about that. It makes it a little difficult to eat, but someday I will invest in a "petticoat tail" mold, but not right now. (The petticoat tails are cut into wedges). I sometimes just make small rounds and dock or prick a sunburst in them to celebrate Yule and the return of the sunlight.

Now lets talk ingredients cause the recipe is so simple it will blow your mind.

I make my Scottish shortbread with European butter. When I make flavored shortbread, I use American butter, but for me, the Scottish shortbread is uber-special so I make the investment (although Kerrygold brand is Irish, I am sure there is a joke in there somewhere, but it eludes me).

There is NO vegetable shortening in shortbread - Never, Ever. Even though they share a common root word, all this means is that the fat inhibits the formation of gluten (which is a stretchy long protein) and "shortens" the dough. Butter, which is an animal derived shortening, does this just as well, especially European butter which is about 85% fat, as opposed to American butter which is only 80%.

Originally, Shortbread was made with Oat flour instead of Wheat. I use unbleached AP flour anyway, becuase for all the weird grains I have in my freezer, oat flour is not one of them. I have noticed a lot of recipes out there claim that rice flour is used for "traditional" recipes... This makes no sense to me, since shortbread was made with what was available in the kitchens at the time. I doubt very much that any Scottish woman had rice flour just lying around in the 1400's when most of the time they didn't even have wheat flour.

There are several advantages to using Oat flour, I suppose. Not only does it lower serum cholesterol, which kind of counteracts the effects of the Butter you are about to eat, but it is also lower in gluten. All butter contains at least a little water, even the European butter has water in it. Water forms gluten, so if you are using a flour that is low in gluten, then you will have a finer texture to your shortbread. As a bonus, oat flour also contains antioxidants that help your baked goods remain fresher for longer periods of time. Which makes a whole lotta sense if you are making Butter rich dough before the age of refrigeration. With all this, is it no wonder that the Scots used Oat flour for their delicious shortbread? I am sticking with AP flour though. ;)

Eggs - There are NO eggs in shortbread, well, at least not in Scottish Shortbread. There is also no flavoring, at all... No Vanilla... Butter is the flavoring of Scottish Shortbread, which is why the quality of the European butter you use is SO important. :) So please find a Butter that you like the flavor of. If you want a flavored shortbread, do what I do, use American butter, cause the European butter is way too expensive to cover up with extracts and such.

OK, now the recipe.....
Scottish Shortbread


There ya go, that is all there is to it.... Hmmm, I guess I should flesh this out a little bit.


1 part Granulated Sugar
2 parts Unsalted European Butter
3 parts Unbleached AP Flour.


OK, enough of the teasing.... But this is by weight, not volume...

4 oz Granulated Sugar
8 oz Unsalted European Butter
12 oz Unbleached AP Flour
1/2 tsp of Kosher Salt,  (though Celtic Grey Salt or Fleur de Sel are better)

The ingredient list is THAT simple, and infinitely scale-able. Such as 6 oz sugar, 12 oz butter, 18 oz AP flour & 3/4 tsp Salt...... 10 oz sugar, 20 oz butter, 30 oz AP flour & 1 1/4 tsp Salt... and so on and so forth. (Please note that 1/4 tsp Salt is necessary per 4 oz of Butter)

The fun part is the assembly. So here we go.

Whisk Flour, Sugar and Salt together in a medium bowl.

Add sliced COLD butter and begin rubbing it into the flour mixture (just like making Pate Brisee)

Bring the dough together slowly,

but try not to melt the butter with the heat of your hands (you can use a pastry cutter as well)

Sprinkle a wooden mold with either Corn Starch or AP Flour.

Press the dough into the mold.

Sort of "smear" any excess towards the outside of the mold and remove.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400F (205C) degrees.
Tap the mold onto a parchment lined baking sheet.

(This takes a little finesse, A LOT of tapping and occasionally some beating)

Bake for 5 minutes at 400F (205C) degrees, then reduce the heat to 325F (162C) and bake an additional 10-15 minutes; checking every 5-10 minutes - do not let the edges brown too much. (which I did on the first one--- Oops! But that's OK, I get to eat that one right away) You want the shortbread to be "just" set in the middle, remember, this is real butter and it will burn very easily. Besides, there is a little bit of carry-over when they are removed from the oven.

In the mean time, redust the mold and fill with more dough, it can be chilling while the first one is cooking... Yes, it takes awhile this way, but they are so awesome look at, that it's almost a shame to eat them.

Then again, It IS Shortbread... (Besides, I had that one that was over done, so I ate it)



Dajana said...

That looks so delicious. I've had a recipe for too long now, but never tried making it, and TA-DA...I have a bag of oats flour, I've made bread with it, so now I have no excuse... only it won't be fancy looking as yours :))) That mold is beautiful

Katy ~ said...

Well done indeed. I think I need to dust off my never used molds for these beauties.

Ciao Chow Linda said...

Wow, you are the shortbread expert! Love the wooden mold.

Patti T. said...

I don't like overly sweet things, so shortbreads are one of my very favorite cookies. Yours are so very beautiful.

Aline said...

You weren't considering sending some my way, by any chance? ;)

Unknown said...

sooo THATS what that is! this looks great! and so pretty!

Mrs G said...

Thanks for this recipe. I have just made christmas gift cookies with it. I know you said it's all about the butter and no to flavourings but I added the zest of clementines and g'pa and the children have wolfed the lot so I'm off to make some more ; )

Shane T. Wingerd said...

Nelly - You welcome, I will admit that I do flavor shortbread on occasion. Your addition of clementine zest sounds delicious! Happy Holidays!

kiwilou said...


Shane T. Wingerd said...

Thanks for stopping by Kiwilou. The oven temperatures for this recipe were originally in Fahrenheit, but I have added the Celsius equivalents. Thank you for letting me know about the inconsistency. I usually add both temperatures, somehow I missed this one.

Happy Baking!

Unknown said...

I have the same mould but I'm having great difficulty trying to get the shortbread out. As in, it won't. At all! Did I not use enough cornflour? Does it get easier with more use? I have never used it as I have not known how to ... And clearly I still don't! HELP!!!

Shane T. Wingerd said...

Erica, it will get easier each time as a patina of flour and butter builds up on the wood surface, making it more "non-stick" kind of like what happens to a wooden rolling pin over time.

When I started using mine, the first three stuck really bad and I had to use a flat meat mallet on the back of the mold to get them to pop out.

I always have better luck with flour than I do with cornstarch too.

Don't be afraid of getting too much in the mold either, you can always brush off any excess with a pastry brush after it comes out of the mold. :)

Hope that helps.

Anonymous said...

I must try Euro butter. Never thought of that, great idea! My Scottish grandmother's recipe (her grandmother's recipe from a farm in Kirkaldy) uses wheat flour and sweet rice flour (higher starch content than regular rice flour) which adds grittiness that some people like. I believe it's an authentic evolution of the ancient recipes as exotic ingredients became more available. Lore suggests other starch sources like cornstarch were used for hundreds of years but the research, as you've probably found, is sketchy. Now, my parents have been making one or two pans of Betty's Scottish Shortbread every week for forty years and Dad has arrived at this modern, easy, absolutely no-fault recipe (by weight, of course): 5-1/4 ounces flour, 2 ounces sugar, 4 ounces cold butter (cold is important), dash of salt optional, 1 tablespoon sweet rice flour. Preheat oven to 325 or 350F. Place all ingredients in the bowl of food processor (yes, food processor). Process until a ball forms or the dough is uniformly gritty like very coarse sand. (I have made this many times, it really doesn't matter if a ball forms.) Plop into molds or a single pan. Press firmly. Poke surface with fork to let steam escape (The texture of a steamed shortbread is preferred by some, shudder). You can rotate the pan at the halfway point. Start checking for doneness at 25 mins. Do not underbake but it's easy to get the edges way too dark. The material you are baking in or on and your oven's accuracy will affect the finishing times dramatically because we are using two pure and simple and sensitive ingredients: sugar and butter. Let the cookie cool for about 10 mins. then slice into wedges or squares using a ruler and sharp knife. Let cool to room temp before trying to eat. It is my experience that the texture and flavor change during cooling. I have no idea how long these cookies will safely keep. They've never lasted more than 48 hours.

Donna said...

I love the recipe and all of your funny comments. I, too, LOVE making and eating shortbread. My grown children and my little grandkids know that I will always have a special shortbread for them. 1-2-3... it is that easy!! Thanks for the great tip about the Irish butter. BTW, I am an American of 50% Italian and 50% Sicilian heritage, but have this intense LOVE for shortbread!! Donna

Anonymous said...

Great recipe, I have an wooden antique family shortbread mould from a long line of bakers, I wondered if you had any tips on cleaning it before use as it hasn't been used for many many years?

Anonymous said...

Kosher salt?
Idiot. Don't insult the recipe.
You are finnicky about the butter, but hey, let's throw in kosher salt, cuz!

Shane T. Wingerd said...

JDLDESIGN - YES, I am a stickler on butter because quality butter is readily available and butter IS the flavor of Shortbread. When this recipe was posted (over 6 years ago) Celtic Grey salt was NOT readily available. (Which would have been significantly better, but is not a necessity.) But I did not feel, at the time, that anyone should have to purchase half of their pantry via mail order.

That being said, salt is necessary to control the sweetness; of the myriad forms of Salt that are available NOW, Kosher salt still has the purest "salt" flavor without contributing unforeseen minerality to the final product. The flavor of your quality butter remains intact.

As far as the "Just Cuz" comment goes; This was more of a joke amongst myself and the long time readers of this blog. I was making a tongue in cheek reference to all the Food Network chefs who, at the time, always made sure to mention that the salt they were using in ALL their recipes was "Kosher".

I will admit, when taken out of the context of the time period, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I should probably go back through some of these older posts and remove some of the more flippant remarks that several of them contain.

Shane T. Wingerd said...

Anonymous - When I clean mine after long periods of non-use, I use a very soft toothbrush that has only been dampened with water.. Soap is definitely a no no as the wood will absorb the flavor. Make sure the molds are dried as quickly as possible.

Chrissy said...

Having just purchased a wood mould from eBay I set too to make shortbread, easy peasey came out of the mould with thistle pattern, not the case when it came out of the oven, question is why and do you prick the pattern side before baking any help I will be greatful.

Chrissy said...

When using a wooden mould do you prick the pattern side of the shortbread

Shane T. Wingerd said...

Chrissy - Your shortbread may have needed to chill a little longer in the refrigerator to keep it's form.

I do prick the shortbread after it has been unmoulded. I do most of the pricking around the raised design from the mould though.

Vickie said...

Should the new wooden mold be seasoned first like a cutting board?

Shane T. Wingerd said...

Vickie - I have never seasoned mine, just a good coating of flour before pressing the dough into the mold, and you should be good to go... The more you used it, the more seasoned it will become... just like an old Rolling pin.

Salty Gal said...

JDLDESIGN ~ wow are you that harsh with yourself too? 3:09 AM? Get some rest and stop sniping at someone who actually has a genuine contribution to make. Salty! Most salty!

Happy Retiree's Kitchen said...

I have just found your post and hopefully I can achieve what you have.I have just been given a wooden shortbread mold just like yours and wasn't sure how to use it even though I make shortbread quite successfully without a mold. I will give your method a try. Thanks so much. I hope you visit my cooking blog sometime as well.

Cheers, Pauline